Sam Surowiec, Staff Writer
In March of this year, the world seemed to flip upside down. We all went home for spring break excited to get back to campus, but we never did. Instead, our homes became our university, and I finished my junior year from my bedroom. Classes were hastily transitioned online because of COVID-19, and both students and faculty alike struggled to acclimate themselves to a new learning format. Since it was an unexpected adjustment, having five online classes at once was sometimes overwhelming. It was a long and cold spring that we all felt relieved to get through, hoping that the fall would be different.
Upon hearing feedback from students and faculty after the spring’s rocky finish, Assumption decided to switch to two 7-week terms in place of the usual 15-week semester with the hopes that less courses would make online learning more manageable. However, there were multiple major caveats to this adjustment. Although students would only be taking two or three classes a term, those classes would be accelerated to still encompass all the material that would normally be taught in a course double the length. Gone was the usual schedule of meeting two or three times a week, and in its place was a schedule resembling something straight out of my high school planner. As for breaks, they were eliminated altogether, subjecting students to a rigorous academic calendar that accounts for only two days off the entire semester leading up to Thanksgiving.
There is a plethora of problems with the current academic calendar. Meeting every day on Zoom causes great fatigue from sitting in front of a screen all day, and the amount of online work assigned each night because of accelerated courses keeps students stuck on their computers for many additional hours. Some classes do operate somewhat asynchronously, which allows students to plan ahead, but there are courses in many disciplines that are not functioning that way. A senior STEM major highlights some of the biggest difficulties of managing work with the increased time spent in both classes and labs daily, saying, “I find myself constantly overwhelmed. This leads me to try and multitask, meaning I am inevitably doing each task half as well as I otherwise could, stay up later trying to complete all my work, and not being able to give myself a time to just take a break.” The 15 week semester would normally allow for much more flexibility and planning, but accelerated courses have just led students to feel rushed and overwhelmed.
This kind of sentiment is all too common, especially for students taking upper-level courses. Although first years may be adjusting just fine to accelerated intro-level courses, the same STEM major points out that “taking three accelerated intro classes is drastically different than taking three of the hardest classes of your college career accelerated.” Seniors in particular, across fields of study, are struggling with the workload and absorbing information to the best of their abilities in classes that are vital to their education.
The concerns about Zoom fatigue and cutting corners is not exclusive to the maths and sciences. “We are often either speeding through material or cutting it out,” a senior Psychology major told me when I asked her how the terms system has affected her. “As a senior in classes where the information is actually vital for my future job prospects, I find this troubling and disheartening,” Condensing or cutting material is not a fault of the faculty, but the result of a system that does not allow for an immersive education. For this senior and many other Assumption students, the 15-week courses allow for more time to actually learn and process the material, whereas the 7-week classes “feel like new topics every half hour—or conversely cutting topics out—in order to speed through it. This is not conducive to learning and therefore feels more like busy work.”
Some major seminars were moved to a 7-week format. Speaking with an Education and English double major, this senior told me of the vital classes for both majors that were unfairly condensed into 7 weeks. Both future career and graduate schooling has been negatively affected by the terms, as well. “It is entirely unfair of Assumption to force us to learn everything there is to know about being an English teacher within 7 weeks. It places us on an uneven staring point when we interview and teach full time during the spring semester,” they told me.
In addition, the English seminar and paper were also shortened, making it extremely difficult to write a seminar paper in that period of time, as well as falling short of the ideal writing sample length for graduate school. A junior and Graphic Design major also expressed concern about receiving an incomplete education, saying, “You cannot accelerate the creative process, so my portfolio is now smaller. We went from 6 projects a semester to only 3.” This abbreviated type of learning does not allow students to learn in-depth and fully master the material and is also harming the overall quality of their education and future success.
On top of dealing with accelerated course work and time online that is causing burnout, there is currently no break between terms. These already existing feelings of burnout that have arisen will carry over into Term 2. Students have been told to think of every week of an accelerated course as two weeks of a normal semester. With that reasoning, one term with three courses is nearly equivalent to a 15-week semester. It would be outrageous for the school to withhold any kind of break from students after 15 weeks, so it is unrealistic and unfair to withhold a break from us between terms.
While 7 week accelerated courses may have appeared like the best solution to managing online courses, they fell short of achieving their goal. Students across disciplines and classes feel cheated out of a full education. In an Instagram poll I conducted, 80% of roughly 100 students that participated said they prefer the 15-week semester to the current 7-week terms. As for the students I reached out to for this article, every single one of them said their peers feel similarly. The 15-week semester may have been challenging online last spring, but now faculty has had ample time to adjust and prepare their courses to be taught online if need be next semester.
On behalf of my fellow Hounds, I ask two things of the administration: give students the much need break between terms that they not only deserve but desperately need, and return to the normal 15-week semester in the spring.